Reprinted from RT
It seems more than strange that, only three days before a high-profile summit was to take place between European Union leaders and Turkey on Europe's refugee crisis, the Ankara authorities carried out an audacious assault on democratic rights.
The violent police seizure of Turkey's biggest opposition newspaper, Zaman, and its immediate cowing into a tame pro-government publication represents the most brazen authoritarian move to date by the ruling AK party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkish opposition politicians denounced the full-frontal assault on independent media as tantamount to a coup d'etat by Erdogan.
But the Western response to the draconian display of state power was more muted than ever. There was hardly any Western media coverage of the Zaman seizure. Both Washington and the EU merely issued perfunctory statements of "concern," and breathlessly urged Ankara to respect "free speech" and "core European values."
In recent months, Erdogan has been locking up journalists and closing critical media outlets. Under his increasingly autocratic rule, the Ankara authorities have prosecuted thousands of citizens who have "insulted" the president through social media.
More gravely, Erdogan has ordered a bloody wave of repression against ethnic Kurds in the country's southeast, with disturbing reports of mass killings by Turkish troops. Turkish military have also been shelling across the border at Kurdish positions in Syria for several weeks now.
It is not as if EU leaders are oblivious to Erdogan's rogue conduct. An EU report issued in November highlighted the growing repression of human rights. But still Erdogan continued his autocratic power-grab anyway. And the full-scale assault on an opposition news media outlet at the weekend is arguably his most flagrant move yet. The timing suggests it was a gambit to test EU resolve.
In other words, Erdogan knew from the Western silence and empty platitudes that there would be no repercussions for his repressive gambit. And why was that? Because, as Erdogan is all too aware, the EU is on its knees to gain his cooperation on ending the refugee crisis assailing its very foundations. That, in turn, meant that he could send his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, to Brussels to extract whopping concessions.
Significantly, at the last minute before the Brussels summit opened on Monday, Turkey's premier Davutoglu pulled out"some new ideas." One of those "new ideas" was that Ankara was no longer requesting $3.3 billion in EU aid, as it had done four months previously. Ankara was now demanding double the money.
Davutoglu hinted at the upper-hand when he arrived in Brussels, saying: "The whole future of Europe is on the table." And he also let it be known that Turkey was talking more than just refugees, adding that Ankara expected "a new era in Turkey-EU relations."
The upshot of negotiations in Brussels this week is that Turkey is to receive a 100 percent increase in promised financial aid from the European Union -- to $6.6 billion -- supposedly for accommodating Syrian refugees on its territory.
Ankara also wrung a promise from Euroland that its 75 million citizens could avail of visa-free travel by as early as June this year; and, perhaps the biggest prize of all, Turkey got a commitment from Brussels to speed up its long-delayed accession to the European Union.
A Financial Times report hinted at the delicate balancing act: "EU leaders tread carefully over Turkey's media crackdown," adding: "Leaders careful not to jeopardize deal with Ankara on migration."